July 24, 2016

Field trip: Weaving and the Social World

Arriving at Union Station in New Haven, CT 

Entering the exhibition "Weaving and the Social World" at the Yale University Art Gallery

Wall text showing a back strap loom, plain weave structure, and discontinuous warp and weft weave 

"Mantles with the Rayed Deity," 500 B.C. - A.D.100, Scaffold weave, camelid wool

My friend Sara looking at a tie-dyed weaving

Detail of "Sleeved Tunic with Flying Condors," A.D. 1200-1400, Plain warp and weft tapestry weave with looped stitching

Installation view of various feather textiles dating from A.D. 400-900, including a large tunic in the center

Several loincloths woven from feathers 

Detail view of one of the feather loincloths


The wall of feather textiles from a distance

Detail of "Tunic with Crested Moon Animal," A.D. 1200-1400, Plain weave with cotton and feathers

Almost a year after spending two glorious weeks on the coast of Maine in a weaving workshop at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (more on that soon), a few of my fellow weavers and I decided that a field trip to New Haven, Connecticut was in order to see "Weaving and the Social World," an exhibition of 3,000 years of weavings by the Andean people.

None of this was made as Art with a capital "A" – it was fabric, it was ceremony, it was functional, and rarely decorative. Many of these pieces required an entire lifetime (and likely multiple hands) to weave. Yet here they were, 600, 1,600, 2,000 years later, hanging at the Yale University Art Gallery. A reminder of not only how ancient things can look so modern to us today, but also how, if we are lucky, the things we make with our hands can go out into the world on their own adventure long after our lifetime. 

Recently I had an inquiry about the longevity of my work - "it looks so delicate, so fragile, how could it possibly last very long?" someone asked me as they considered acquiring a piece of mine for their new building. I pointed to ancient embroideries to show that these things, if well-cared for, can exist for many centuries. Nothing lasts forever, of course, but to see these vibrant loincloths made from feathers in the year 400 A.D. hanging on a gallery wall in 2016 felt like a message from our ancestors about a particular belief in, and dedication to, the preservation of beauty. 

"Weaving and the Social World" is on view at the Yale University Art Gallery through September 18, 2016. 

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